Controlled Burn: Sitting with Fear July 3, 2020 21:11
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It's early July, and I'm sitting in a lawn chair babysitting an active fire in our side yard. My fear of fire is strong, so I hate it when Jim burns shit in our yard. It ratchets up my anxiety levels, and today, the pile of wood was very high. We cleared out and cut several dead ash trees and rotted wooden beams that framed our turnaround, so the heap was a formidable one.
The good news is, it's not a windy day. The flames were quite intimidating at first, but they died down quite a bit and fairly quickly. The logs are turning ashy white on the outside and glowing bright orange at the center.
I have to admit, I feel a bit like the burning logs right now. Everything seems to be fairly calm and under control, but beneath the surface, anger, sadness, frustration, and uncertainty are blazing.
Typically, on the Summer Solstice, I am a vendor at an event in downtown Indianapolis, Monumental Yoga. This year, however, because of COVID-19, the physical event was cancelled, and, understandably so. I typically sell quite a few malas at this event, and even though I've had the opportunity to participate in a few virtual events as a vendor this season, the results have been disappointing. I didn't sell a single mala in the month of June, which is very unusual. The good news is, I've had time to catch up on my inventory, and I currently have a full collection in the online shop. However, I'm anxious for these beautiful malas to find new homes.
I've also been dealing with waves of sadness throughout this past month as well. My friend Michelle died on June 16. She'd been battling terminal cancer for the past three years. A few months ago, she was doing quite well, and I was really hopeful that she might have more time. She was a kind, generous spirit, and I will miss her dearly.
The first of July was the tenth anniversary of my friend Larry's death. Larry was an amazing art teacher at the high school where I used to teach English. His partner had shared an online interview that Larry gave with a former art student just a week before he died. It was wonderful to hear his voice again, but it was also agonizingly sad. Larry was an excellent educator, and he encouraged his students not only to create meaningful art, but to maintain a sense of curiosity and wonder with the world. Listening to this interview ten years after his death was inspiring, but also bittersweet.
I'm still struggling through weekly Tibetan language lessons. Currently, I'm taking two classes a week on Zoom with two different tutors. I have moments of clarity and understanding, but many more moments of feeling totally lost and frustrated.
Our class on Saturday went over by 45 minutes. I had literally been tethered to my computer for over two hours, and another student asked a question that required a lengthy, complicated answer--and it was material that was totally new to me. At that time, I was too tired to process any more information (Zoom fatigue is no joke, people!).
I tried to remain patient, polite, and engaged, but I'm sure my frustration showed through in my body language and audible sighing.
The Tibetan language is very subtle, and correct pronunciation is extremely important. Unfortunately, I have significant hearing loss in one ear, and after two hours of intently listening, I'd reached my limit. I want to understand; I want to get it right, but it was not happening at that moment.
As an educator, I understand that confusion is an important aspect of the learning process. Sometimes you have to stir things up in order to see the truth and then make sense of it. It's one thing to understand this on a conceptual level; it's quite another to experience it and process it with dignity and grace in real time, especially when you're tired and cranky.
I've had enough of Zoom, really. Don't get me wrong; I'm extremely grateful to have the option to connect with others virtually online. It has been a crucial link in many ways; however, it's also a poor substitute for face-to-face communication with people, and I really miss that right now.
So, this is where the anger shows up for me. Honestly, I feel a little like Samuel L. Jackson in the last 20 minutes of Snakes on a Plane. (If you're not familiar with this film...or THE quintessential line in this film, click here).
I have had ENOUGH of COVID-19!
I have had ENOUGH of Donald Trump!
I have had ENOUGH of police brutality!
I have had ENOUGH of systemic racism and racial inequality!
I have had ENOUGH of ridiculous conspiracy theories and manipulative propaganda on social media!
I have had ENOUGH of crybabies complaining about having to wear masks in public!
I have had ENOUGH of people suffering and dying needlessly from this terrifying new virus!
Before I can be grateful and understand the blessings of big things, I have to acknowledge and sit with their shadow sides first. I can't attach, contract, grab, cling, or wallow in them.
First and foremost, I have to sit with these strong feelings...let them burn brightly, then smolder, stirring the ashes until they cool. This process enables me to allow whatever it is to be, to open and expand in order to see the benefit...and take necessary actions to realize it.
So, I sit with these feelings, letting them burn...and then smolder.
I stir their ashes until they cool.
I witness them, with gentle attention, and without judgment.
I see you, Anger.
I see you, Inadequacy.
I see you, Anxiety.
I see you, Grief.
I see you, Frustration.
Right now, blue smoke is rising from the much smaller burn pile. The popping and cracking of blazing wood has subsided. The warm ash flakes are drifting and falling less frequently.
It is in this moment that I notice birdsong. I hear children laughing in a neighbor's yard. I take comfort in knowing that a young fawn is curled up in the brush near our home. Even though I can't see her spotted coat, I know she's there, and that mama doe is somewhere nearby.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and I have reason to celebrate. I will be celebrating my temporary freedom from fear, hopelessness, anger, grief, and frustration.
These feelings will no doubt return, but for now, they have settled, eased, burned to the ground along with this giant pile of ash.
If you haven't had a chance to visit the updated Middle Moon Malas collection in a while, please click here. Perhaps one of these beautiful designs will find a new home with you.
Giving and Receiving: Three Keys to Finding Balance October 4, 2016 12:05
I recently learned that one of my dearest friends from junior high/high school passed away suddenly. We lost touch a few years after graduation, but learning of her passing stirred up old memories for me.
Josie was a very kind-hearted, sincere person. Everyone loved her. She was popular and active in orchestra, drama, journalism, Student Council, speech and debate, and German club. In high school, we worked together at a local Dairy Queen.
Josie was a giver—she willingly gave her time and energy to anyone who needed it. She was a doer and a people-pleaser. She often went out of her way to help someone else, even if it meant sacrificing her own well-being.
Learning of her recent passing was a shock. She left behind a young daughter and many family members and friends who are reeling from this loss. Her passing is a fierce reminder of how important it is to set boundaries and balance giving with receiving.
I know from my own experiences how easy it is to get sucked into the giving vortex—that all-consuming need to fulfill others’ obligations or serve others so as not to disappoint. It feels good to be helpful, but if not balanced with taking the time to nurture and restore your own reserves, it can be exhausting.
Finding this balance is like breathing. Breathing is involuntary —we don’t have to think about it; it just happens. However, this can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we don’t have to worry about scheduling time to breathe— on the other hand, it becomes too easy to take this vital activity for granted.
Each breath we take is a reminder of how essential it is to balance giving and receiving. Giving without receiving is like exhaling without inhaling. Eventually, it depletes you of your energy, time, and motivation. It’s exhausting, unnatural, and unhealthy.
So what do you do when you find this delicate balance of give and receive has shifted? How do you recover, nourish the self, and restore balance?
When you first begin to notice the tug of obligation pulling you into the vortex of endless giving, stop!
Don’t do ANYTHING—even if it’s for a few minutes. Lock yourself in a bathroom or step outside and gaze at the sky to take a much-needed perspective break.
Turn off the gadgets
Moments like these are when the benefits of a meditation practice really start to pay off. By pausing and paying attention to how you’re feeling and observing what you’re thinking can help guide you. Giving yourself permission to sit, stand, lean against a wall and just BE without doing, thinking, and strategizing can help prevent another exhausting loop inside the vortex.
2. MAKE TIME—don’t find it—you won’t—you have to actively MAKE TIME to do something that nourishes yourself.
Go for a walk (the woods, a park, the beach—find a nearby beautiful place to explore)
Make a nourishing meal (for yourself)
Read (FOR FUN)
Go see a movie
3. Set Healthy Boundaries by Saying NO
You cannot please everyone, and only a fool will try. Setting boundaries by saying “No” with conviction and respect is like the pause between the exhale and the inhale. It marks a necessary shift from giving to receiving. You cannot effectively help, serve, or give to others if you do not take the time to nurture yourself. The trick to this one is knowing when you’ve given enough, and knowing when it’s time to pause and fill up your own reserves. Also, understand that you will disappoint some people at times—but it’s OK—they’ll get over it. If they love and respect you, they’ll understand and forgive you. If they don’t, then they weren’t worth your time and effort in the first place.
I’m grieving the loss of my childhood friend. Josie was a kind-hearted, beautiful spirit, and I will miss her. I’ve actively included her memory in my personal meditation practice—dedicating rounds of my japa practice to her. She was a dear friend and a bright light. She helped me endure a very difficult phase of my life, and she taught me several powerful, meaningful life lessons. Her friendship was a treasure.